By: Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Hijab and Veiling: The three Abrahamic religions have their origin from the middle East and they certainly took some of the cultures of the people.
To show you how powerful religion can be, once it takes hold of a culture and canonizes it, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the religious faith and the culture which was there prior to the coming of the faith.
Faith has a way of fusing itself into the culture and language of the people to the extent that both may appear inseparable.
Arabic as a language existed before Muhammad was born in 570 AD, But because Islam adopted it, wrote its sacred book with it, today it is difficult to mention Arabic as a language without linking it to Islam.
Women in the middle East have always been known to dress in ways that will cover the head to toe. Hijab as it is understood today did not start with Islam, neither did veiling with Christians.
If you read the history of Mesopotamia, the Byzantines, the Greeks, the Persian empires, the Assyrians, you will see that long before even the advent of Christianity or the birth of Christ, women wore veil as a sign of respectability and high status. In fact, it is not all women that were allowed to veil. Prostitutes for example or people of low class can’t dare to veil.
To push it further, Ancient Greece had the practice of strict veiling and seclusion of their women from the eyes of strange men. It is more cultural than religious.
Because veiling was interpreted as modesty and decency and class, some even saw it as a sign of uprightness, it was easy for “faith” to align with it. Jews did not discard it. Christians adopted it. Islam did not abrogate it. In fact, they took it steps further.
But the big question is, is veiling or covering the head the definition of modesty for women of EVERY culture?
If we read 1 Corinthians 11:5-7, St Paul says:
“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.”
Even without being told, you could see ancient Greece culture influencing St Paul. Imagine seeing some Africans of today who have short hairs or those that cut their hairs and conclude that it is a disgrace.
Following this, can we now impose on all women in the world, even those who neither have long hair or see veiling the way ancient Greece saw it, what St Paul wrote to them? Can we draw a line, which is the Christian faith, which is the culture?
Is it not the same argument we once had about using white gown for wedding as a sign of Christian wedding? Is suit and gown the cultural wear of everyone in every culture?
Have you not seen where ladies upon entering the church or either to pray and because they did not carry head scarf, they begin to look for handkerchief or anything to cover the head? The same women will travel to Europe or America and attend church without covering their hair.
Why will God not be angry with some women in Europe for not covering their hair to pray but will be angry with Africans for not covering their hair to pray?